Developer enters New Iberia's race, then bails out

REPEAL OF OCS DRILLING BAN PICKING UP SUPPORT Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation have long called for lifting the ban on offshore exploration in the U.S.’s Outer Continental Shelf, particularly the nearby eastern Gulf of Mexico, but now that a presidential candidate and top federal agency have joined the push, the issue is gaining new momentum. There are actually two bans on offshore drilling along the U.S.’s east and west coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico — a 1981 congressional moratorium and a 1990 executive ban signed by the first President Bush. The United States is the only country that has closed more than 80 percent of its OCS to drilling, and outdated estimates — last assessed in the late 1980s — assume there may be 18 billion barrels of untapped oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off of U.S. coastlines.

Though Louisiana is not included in the ban, industry officials argue that the state has the infrastructure in place to support the activity and bring the oil and gas online to help alleviate rising fuel costs.

A month ago President Bush asked Congress to open up the area to drilling, and on Monday removed the executive prohibition (both bans must be lifted for any new activity to take place). Generations of Louisiana lawmakers, such as U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat who represents portions of southern Acadiana, have filed legislation to lift the statutory ban, but have been unable to make any headway — until now. “He still supports [lifting the ban] and is hopeful,” says Robin Winchell, Melancon’s press secretary.

For his part, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican who represents the rest of Acadiana, sent a letter to Bush Thursday, July 10, asking him to take action immediately to help lower the price of gas, if for nothing else. “The President was right to call on Congress to lift the congressional OCS exploration ban, but he must lift the executive ban now,” Boustany said in his letter. “Increasing American supplies of oil will help decrease the price at the pump squeezing families in southwest Louisiana. The President can eliminate his ban on exploration now, and Congress should follow his lead.”

In many ways, Boustany is following the lead of his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has advocated increased OCS energy production to both lower prices at the pump and increase U.S. supply. When it comes to environmental concerns, McCain has said he would not support drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or other sensitive areas.

The official energy plan of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrat Party’s assumed presidential nominee, does little to address the expansion of OCS drilling. Obama’s campaign planks focus instead on reducing oil consumption, retooling fuel-economy standards and creating new tax breaks.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service, the federal body that oversees federal oil-and-gas leases, has also called for a lifting of the bans with some limitations. MMS Director Randall Luthi, speaking to reporters last week on a conference call, said the new OCS areas would yield fuel for up to 15 years, during which time the country should focus more resources on alternative energy sources. 

One of the more viable measures floating around Congress to lift the OCS ban is sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and 43 other House Republicans, including Boustany. Murphy also co-signed the letter to the president penned by Boustany. Winchell said Melancon was not asked to take part in this particular push by Republicans, but he does support the intent.

VIDRINE ANNOUNCES 7TH DISTRICT CANDIDACY U.S. Constitution Party candidate Peter Vidrine launched his run for the 7th Congressional District seat last week at City Hall in Eunice. The Eunice native and owner of the technical services company Sirius Technologies is making his second bid for Congress. Because the U.S. Constitution Party isn’t recognized by the state, Vidrine’s name will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot without a party listed. Vidrine first ran as a Republican in 1996 in an eight-candidate field, garnering just over 5,000 votes. He has since switched over to the Constitution Party, and is promoting a moratorium on immigration, closing the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, withdrawing from the World Trade Organization and the United Nations and cutting off aid to foreign countries.

Vidrine was an early supporter of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul in the Republican presidential primary is working to build on the grassroots network that Paul established in the state.

LANDRIEU AND KENNEDY’S SECOND QUARTER HAUL Friends of Mary Landrieu announced last week that the incumbent Democratic senator raised more than $1.5 million during the second quarter of 2008 — what her re-election campaign committee claims is a state record for any U.S. senator seeking re-election.

“Sen. Landrieu’s strong fund raising shows that her support is widespread and crosses party lines,” Landrieu campaign manager Jay Howser says. “Republicans, independents and Democrats from Shreveport to Lake Charles, from Monroe to Grand Isle and everywhere in between know that Sen. Landrieu fights and wins for Louisiana.”

Landrieu’s campaign has more than $5.4 million in the bank, doubling the cash on hand of her opponent, state Treasurer John Kennedy. The Kennedy campaign countered by announcing that it bested Landrieu’s $1.5 million by raising $1.51 million in the second quarter. “We also set fund-raising records by raising the most amount of money of any Senate challenger,” says Lenny Alcivar, Kennedy’s communications director.

DEVELOPER ENTERS, THEN BAILS ON NEW IBERIA MAYOR’S RACE Colorful businessman Chris Jordan was challenging New Iberia mayor Hilda Curry in this year’s fall election. Jordan, a developer, told The Daily Iberian that he can bring rapid economic growth to the city. Known as a freewheeling entrepreneur, Jordan’s corporation, Vermilion Holdings, owns several New Iberia downtown landmarks including the Gouggenheim and Lagniappe buildings, and an impressive camp at Cypremort Point. Jordan’s frequently been vocal about property owner’s rights, often publicly challenging the city’s regulations. But only a day after articulating his intention to run, Jordan pulled the plug on his candidacy. “Unfortunately, I have other obligations in place, which I cannot abandon at this time,” he said. “I will do everything possible to assist the current mayor in helping New Iberia achieve a higher level of success for which we can all be proud.”

Contributors: Jeremy Alford, Nathan Stubbs, Leslie Turk and Mary Tutwiler

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